When the video starts in April 2004, there are already some big names on the list, like the legendary Nvidia TNT2 and the ATI Radeon 9600. However, it's the GeForce4 and GeForce4 MX that are the out-and-out leaders, making up 28.5 per cent of all Steam users at the time. It's fascinating to see how ATI and Nvidia are close rivals early on, with the GeForce 6600 and 7600 proving popular but AMD's counterparts holding strong too. Things get turned on their head in late 2007 though, as the GeForce 8800 gives Nvidia a massive advantage, shooting up to 13 per cent of all graphics cards on Steam and staying in the number one slot until early 2010.
There's nothing quite like having a little chat on usenet with the founder of the company who created the 3D accelerator you just bought. Like I said, it was a simpler time.Just imagine something with the power of forty Pentium-200 chips! Well, you don't have to. There's probably a CPU more powerful than that in your PC right now. But the relative scale of difference in computational power between the CPU and a GPU hasn't changed -- special purpose GPUs really are that much more powerful than general purpose CPUs.After that first taste of hot, sweet GPU power, I was hooked. Every year since then I've made a regular pilgrimage to the temple of the GPU Gods, paying my tithe and bringing home whatever the latest, greatest, state-of-the art in 3D accelerators happens to be. What's amazing is how often, even now, performance doubles yearly.This year, I chose the NVIDIA GTX 280. Specifically, the MSI NVIDIA GTX 280 OC, with 1 GB of memory, overclocked out of the box. I hate myself for succumbing to mail-in rebates, but they get me every time -- this card was $375 after rebate.$375 is expensive, but this is still the fastest single card configuration available at the moment. It's also one heck of a lot cheaper than the comically expensive $650 MSRP these cards were introduced at in June. Pity the poor rubes who bought these cards at launch! Hey, wait a second -- I've been one of those rubes for 10 years now. Never mind.This is the perfect time to buy a new video card -- before Thanksgiving and running up to Christmas is prime game release season. All the biggest games hit right about now. Courtesy of my new video card and the outstanding Fallout 3, my productivity last week hit an all-time low. But oh, was it ever worth it. I'm a long time Fallout fan, even to the point that our wedding pre-invites had secret geek Fallout art on them. Yes, that was approved by my wife, because she is awesome.I must say that experiencing the wasteland at 60 frames per second, 1920 x 1200, in high dynamic range lighting, with every single bit of eye candy set to maximum, was so worth it. I dreamt of the wastelands.In fact, even after reaching the end of the game, I'm still dreaming of them. I've heard some claim Fallout 3 is just Oblivion with guns. To those people, I say this: you say that like it's a bad thing. The game is incredibly true to the Fallout mythos. It's harsh, gritty, almost oppressive in its presentation of the unforgiving post-apocalyptic wasteland -- and yet there's always an undercurrent of dark humor. There are legitimate good and evil paths to every quest, and an entirely open-ended world to discover.No need to take my word for it, though. I later found some hardware benchmark roundups that confirmed my experience: the GTX 280 is crazy fast in Fallout 3.Of course, we wouldn't be responsible PC owners if we didn't like to mod our hardware a bit. That's what separates us from those knuckle-dragging Mac users: skill. (I kid, I kid!) First, you'll want to download a copy of the amazing little GPU-Z application, which will show you in real time what your video card is doing.A little load testing is always a good idea, particularly since I got a bum card with my first order -- it would immediately shoot up to 105 C and throttle within a minute or two of doing anything remotely stressful in 3D. It worked, but the resulting stuttering was intolerable, and the fan noise was unpleasant as the card worked overtime to cool itself down. I'm not sure how I would have figured that out without the real time data and graphs that GPU-Z provides. I returned it for a replacement, and the replacement's behavior is much more sane; compare GPU-Z results at idle (left) and under RTHDRIBL load (right):Fortunately, there's not much we need to do to improve things. The Nvidia 8800 and GTX series are equipped with outstanding integrated coolers which directly exhaust the GPU heat from the back of the PC. I'd much rather these high powered GPUs exhaust their heat outward instead of blowing it around inside the PC, so this is the preferred configuration out of the box. However, the default exhaust grille is incredibly restrictive. I cut half of the rear plate away with a dremel, which immediately reduced fan speeds 20% (and thus, noise 20%) due to the improvement in airflow.Just whip out your trusty dremel (you do own a dremel, right?) and cut along the red line. It's easy. If you're a completionist, you can apply better thermal paste to the rest of the card to eke out a few more points of efficiency with the cooler.Extreme? Maybe. But I like my PCs powerful and quiet. That's another thing that attracted me to the GTX 280 -- for a top of the line video card, it's amazingly efficient at idle. And despite my gaming proclivities, it will be idle 98% of the time.I do love this new video card, but I say that every year. I try not to grow too attached. I'm sure this video card will be replaced in a year with something even better.What else would you expect from an addict? 2b1af7f3a8